Perspective

Warriors, Levelers, and the Role of Conflict in Human Social Evolution

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Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 876-879
DOI: 10.1126/science.1217336

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Abstract

The origins of such varied features of contemporary life as the national state and the desire to uphold generous and civic social norms are to be found in a combination of conflict between groups and attenuation of both inequalities and conflicts within groups. In contrast to the adoption of a better tool or a more productive crop, which can be adopted by a single individual, a new institution works only if most people adopt it. This explains why collective action against those benefitting from the status quo at the expense of others, as well as conflict between groups governed by different norms and institutions, figures so prominently in our capacity to adapt to changing circumstances and to harness new knowledge for human benefit.

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